Jake came in to see me for an initial consultation just the other day, looking completely dejected.  Apparently he had pleaded with Marilyn to seek couples counseling with him and she’d flat-out refused, leaving him feeling rejected and worried about her level of commitment to him.  He said that although he knew I probably couldn’t help improve their relationship without his wife’s participation, coming in alone was his last hope for saving their marriage. 


Here was my response:  “First of all you’re making an assumption that may be false about why Marilyn isn’t here with you today.  You’ve decided that it’s because she isn’t invested enough in the relationship when in fact there can be many other reasons why she decided not to join us today.  Unless you know something I don’t, you truly can’t read Marilyn’s mind.  Secondly, the great news is that you can do things to improve the relationship even without Marilyn’s participation.”  Immediately Jake’s demeanor changed; he looked as though a big burden had been lifted.   


Over the years I’ve met with many “Jakes”; they’ve sought my help at all ages and stages of marital dysfunction.  Although these folks used to be primarily women I’m meeting with more and more men who are desperate to improve or save their relationships.  


There are a myriad of reasons why your partner may be unwilling to participate in couples counseling but in many respects these are irrelevant.  All that really matters is that you have the desire and motivation to engage in a change process yourself, whatever it takes.  In my professional experience here are four key steps you can take to unilaterally improve your relationship while working with a qualified and experienced couple’s counselor; here they are:


  • First and foremost leave your pride outside the therapist’s door:  Your best shot at fixing your relationship is by taking 100% responsibility for the problems in your marriage.  Even though you’re unlikely to be totally at cause, by acting as if you are and making changes accordingly, you are most likely to improve your marriage, even without your partner’s help.  By rehashing all of your partner’s faults with your therapist you’ll be wasting precious time and money that would be better spent looking at the only thing you can actually change – yourself!

  • Objectively try to determine your role in the marital discord:  For example are you a poor listener or communicator, unwilling to “walk a mile in his shoes”, too controlling or not affectionate enough?  If so work with the therapist on strategies for improving in these areas. 

  • Replace your dysfunctional patterns with functional ones:  Often we lack the perspective to see the changes we personally need to make in order to improve the relationship.  Further we may not bring our best problem-solving skills to the table when we’re overcome by the strong emotions triggered by relationship strife.  Finally we may lack information or tools critical to improved behavior on our part.

  • Immediately make the necessary changes without judgment:  You can make all of the unilateral efforts in the world to save your marriage.  However if while doing so you’re also busily putting a guilt trip on your partner for not doing the same, you’re directly sabotaging your own efforts.


Life often isn’t fair and this fact is alive and well when it comes to successfully improving intimate relationships.  Don’t waste another minute pointing out your partner’s faults or measuring how much each of you is contributing to the problem.  Instead, armed with the realization that you can engender change in your relationship even if your partner chooses not to actively participate, run, don’t walk, to meet with a qualified and experienced couple’s counselor!


Relationship Rescue Unilaterally

by Maud Purcell

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